He'd been avoiding speaking to Itachi alone that day, but there was no escaping the subtle glances that came by his direction from the man.
The eulogy he bore with great difficulty, mostly because it was Itachi speaking up there, and he was ever so glad for his son choosing the moment to whine in his lap. It was the perfect excuse for a getaway, and Shisui left his wife in the room next to his empty seat under the guise of having to take care of a crying baby. She was half glad that he would take the baby away, because that saved her the embarrassment of having people stare at her, but she also suspected that he would be gone a long while and, leaving her here in the midst of people she didn't know at all, was going to find herself in quite the predicament when it came to niceties and mingling. It made her nervous, and she shot him a pleading glance when he stood with the child. His glance, however, was reassuring, and she settled in her chair, pulling the hem of her skirt as far as it would go over her knees, placing her little black handbag over them just in case.
Shisui takes to walking past a line of moldy old graves in the furthest block of the cemetery, showing his son the rickety old statues of angels and demons, weather-beaten and faceless creatures that pointed to the heavens. The child finds a soft purple catkin to play with instead, and Shisui stands under the drooping willow, pulling branches low enough for little fingers to latch onto.
He never heard the soft footsteps behind him until—"I wondered where you'd disappeared to…"
Shisui lets the branch go, slowly, careful so that it doesn't snap back too fast and hit his son in the face.
But when he turns, he barely ever makes eye contact. "I'm… sorry. About Hitomi," he says, the words sounding more practiced than sincere.
"Mm." And Itachi tries his best to make Shisui look at him.
"We thought she'd pull through, you know? I mean, the last time you wrote, she sounded fine?"
"For a bit, yes. We… all hoped she would pull through."
Itachi shrugs, and opens his mouth to say something else, but Shisui beats him to it. "How are the kids taking it?"
Itachi eyes the other before shutting his mouth for a second, composing himself before his words come out just as practiced as Shisui's. "As well as they could. We have been preparing for it for a while, so this isn't as much a shock as it would have been."
"Yeah… Yeah I guess, that helps a little." Only now does Shisui steal a glance at Itachi, catching the other's eye, looking for clues. Was he doing okay?
Shisui looks away again, because he knows he'd be sucked back into the past once more if Itachi had his way.
And Itachi purses his lips, chest tightening at the other's reaction. It's been almost twenty years since he'd seen Shisui and yet…
"Well— I suppose I should get back. I left Nagisa all by herself."
He makes ready to go, and his son whines again, reluctant to leave the willow behind with all of its catkins, but Shisui is in quite the hurry to vacate the premises. Itachi reaches out and grips his wrist. "Shisui."
The look in those eyes makes Shisui regret coming here. That last goodbye should have been the last. It should have stayed that way. He wasn't ready for any more. Not since the last time he had shouldered a wounded heart for fifteen years before meeting Nagisa. And now that touch burned—not unlike it used to when Itachi touched him, almost twenty years ago.
"I'm sorry, Shisui, but I don't have a choice."
"What do you mean you don't have a choice? You can refuse!"
"Father wants me to marry."
"And what if you don't?"
"…Shisui, I cannot."
"You cannot or you will not, Itachi?"
"Then… what about us?"
Sorry didn't fix anything, Itachi. Sorry left you with a wife and a house and the life you always wanted for your family. Sorry took me out of the picture. Sorry told me to wait for you forever. Sorry made you make me watch her take my place. Sorry made you a stranger, and you were fine playing that game while I hurt inside. Sorry made my heart such a burden that I thought I'd never be able to get up from how heavy it had become. Sorry made me play by your rules, because it's only fair that I must suffer for both of us—isn't that right, Itachi?
"Not now, Shisui."
"Then when! How much longer must I stand by and watch?!"
"I cannot do what you're asking me to do, Shisui—"
"What difference does it make? You're already cheating on her, even if it isn't physical."
"I love my wife, Shisui. Stop this."
That's when I knew I was not a choice, Itachi. I was that friend you took for granted in this one instance, the one you always thought will be there no matter what. The friend who was supposed to understand. Do right by you, Itachi; do right by your family. I will stand right beside you but not in this. Not in this. I love you too much that I'm afraid I'd become poison if I stayed any longer.
And now the look in those eyes told Shisui that nothing had ever really changed. He recognized it, and immediately pulled his wrist away from the other's grasp.
"I'm sorry, Itachi." I'm sorry. Remember that was you eighteen years ago?
Itachi's brows dip slightly, fingers automatically going to reach out for the other man again. But Shisui steps away, turning, this time, to face him properly. This was a long time coming, and he was glad his boy was only a year old, too young to understand.
"I'm sorry Itachi, but it's a little too late for that." Eighteen years too late. I can see it in your eyes; you're shocked, aren't you?
"What did you think? That I married Nagisa for the heck of it? To keep up appearances? For my family? No, Itachi. I'm not you. I can't. I can't lie and live a lie."
"No, that's not what I me—"
"I love her, Itachi." Can you hear me now? "I love her." Loud enough for you? "And this is my son. She gave me a son." Kissing him, his little cheek; may you never find out, my boy. May you never know heartbreak like you father had done. "He's my everything. And I could never leave him, or his mother, for anything. Or anyone." Are you listening, Itachi? "And she loves me." I'm trying not to cry again, because it still hurts. "And she knows—She knows how heavy a burden this heart can get. She knows because she picked me up where you left me, and guess what? I'm never going back. I don't think I can. I'm sorry Itachi. I know I broke our promise but I'm sorry—"
Shisui turns at the sound of the voice, then glances once more at Itachi. "I guess… it's goodbye then…"
Itachi can barely allow himself to form the words, but—"I never stopped, Shisui…"
"You have a funny way of showing it, Itachi."
"Shisui! There you are! I was looking all over for you." Nagisa hurries down the little hill, almost tripping over her heels once before she comes to stand by him, hand sliding across his back as she smiles at Itachi. Shisui's best friend; she had yet to be formally introduced.
Itachi forces himself to smile back, and Shisui introduces them.
But after that it is goodbye, and Nagisa tells Itachi to come visit any time. "Bring the children, too," she says, her cheek leaning against Shisui's arm, her arms wrapping around his waist.
She loves him, he realizes, then nods, smiling still. "I will."
"Don't be a stranger~!" Her laughter rings like a bell, sweet and pure. And when she looks at Shisui, he watches as her eyes brighten. She loves him. And the gratitude in his eyes when he looks into hers, the way his fingers curl around her long, long hair, and that smile— He loves her. That realization stings like a blade to his heart.
Itachi watches from under the willow as his best friend leaves, and waves once when they turn back to him.
But—I love you too much that I'd become poison if I stayed…
The wind swallows that whisper for him.